Media Redefined: Is Facebook News Feed dancing on print’s corpse?
by Martin MacGregor (@MartMacG) I stepped back in time the other day to be taken on a tour of a newspaper printing press, just as the afternoon paper was being printed. There is something intriguing about watching a process which was once a leader and now, like steam travel, looks quirky and slightly bizarre. I was tempted to find the off switch and stop what felt like a crazy waste of paper, ink and everyone’s time. All that energy and resource into producing something flimsy that would, in most cases, have a consumer lifespan of less than 15 minutes — and then get chucked.
Ironically, the day before, Facebook had made a major announcement about its News Feed and it struck me how far the distribution of news has shifted in the 20 years since it was liberated from its paper prison.
Fluidity of news
The fluidity of news and the way it washes around social media platforms to wherever the Facebook algorithm sends it could not be more different from the inflexible combination of 100% editorial control and print deadlines. In times of crises, such as Brexit week, the difference and short-fallings become even more stark.
However, the interesting thing about its News Feed announcement is Facebook making a conscious shift back to its roots. As it said in its announcement: “Facebook was built on the idea of connecting people with their friends and family. That is still the driving principle of News Feed today.”
What this means is that Facebook is recognising that friends are more important than traffic from the Facebook pages of businesses and media companies. Fine if your friends share this content, but not if it’s merely liking a news or brand page.
Playing it smart
Essentially, this is Facebook playing it smart: brands and news sites have become reliant upon them for eyeballs and now the free lunch is over. If they want the eyeballs, they must pay for them. More importantly, it reiterates that Facebook has no interest in becoming a news site or content generator itself. It wants to make sure it keeps its personal and independent nature, unique to everyone who uses it as a platform.
Its currency is really personal-sharing, whether videos, photos, comments or third-party content — but the key here is that it only sees this content as valuable, once given the personal-sharing stamp of approval. This reflects a major shift in consumer behaviour around news. A news website? A news Facebook page? A news Twitter handle? Bah!
If Facebook has its way (and so far it has), news now is most likely to be consumed and deemed credible if shared by someone you know.
Challenge for news organisations
This is another huge challenge for news organisations and further erodes the control they once had. The age of the printing press does seem a long way back, now. It really is time to shift all that energy and resource into solving the future of news, not investing in the past.
Martin MacGregor (@MartMacG) is managing director of Connect, an M&C Saatchi Company, with offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Martin has spent 18 years in the industry, and has previously worked at Ogilvy and was MD of MEC Nota Bene in Cape Town. He contributes the monthly “Media Redefined” column, in which he challenges norms in the media space, to MarkLives.com.